Medical Likes: the dilemma of being friends with doctors on social networks

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There are medical and bioethics professionals who question whether their patients have “friends” in networks. Others, however, advocate its use with limitations. what are the risks

(iStock)
(iStock)

Argentine television presenter and actress Mirtha Legrand had a flexion surgery on her abdomen in 2019 and when she appeared again on the show, she commented: “Warm greetings to my doctor, Guillermo Semeniuk, who is a wonderful doctor.” After the outbreak began, his twin brother died, and his doctor convinced him not to wake up because of the risk of contracting the coronavirus. Stents were placed in his heart arteries in 2021, and he was diagnosed with COVID-19 last May. “Yesterday Dr. I spoke to Guillermo Semeniuk and said I was worried because I didn’t like him. That’s why they came to clean me”, Legrand detailed.

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The television diva always appreciates the professionalism and support of her doctor, who is professor emeritus at the University of Buenos Aires School of Medicine and one of the 100 most outstanding personalities in medicine for the Konex Award in 2013. But Mirtha Legrand’s doctor is far from wanting to be famous. She maintains a low profile and has no social networks. “I don’t think you have to be friends Patients through social networks I believe in a good personal relationship, but not in these ways and not by caring for what is called friendship” , Dr. Semeniuk replied by email: information .

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With the increasing use of social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tic Tok, among others, health professionals had the opportunity to access new communication channels with your colleagues, your patients, and the community at large. But the dynamics of virtuality are different from face-to-face encounters, and not everyone agrees that male and female doctors should “accept” their patients as “friends” on social networks.

An article in the journal Argentine Pediatric Association recommended that doctors - even students - not accept friend requests from current or former patients or their families on social networks (Getty Images)
An article in the journal Argentine Pediatric Association recommended that doctors – even students – not accept friend requests from current or former patients or their families on social networks (Getty Images)
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Recently, the special magazine Argentina Archives of Pediatrics Published by the Argentine Pediatric Association. in your last issue An article questioning how healthcare professionals “friend” patients through social networks. The authors are Fernando Lamas, Laura Krynski, Hernán Rowensztein (of the Juan Garrahan Hospital for Pediatrics) and Ignacio Maglio, a lawyer specializing in bioethics from the Integrated Care Team of Muniz Hospital in Buenos Aires.

Experts made different recommendations and emphasized the need to maintain professionalism in the relationship between doctors and patients: “The personal sphere should be different from the professional. It is recommended that healthcare professionals – even students – not accept friend requests from current or former patients or their families on social networks”, the authors stated. They also suggested that “comments about symptoms or treatments should be general, never about a particular patient, even if there are those who question us on social networks.”

Social media -they pointed out- “They require the same ethical behavior in everyday life as in professional relationships with patients and other colleagues. Their inappropriate use can blur the line between an individual’s public and professional life.

when asked by information one of the co-authors, Maglio argued why it is not right for patients to be friends on social networks: “We believe that it is an ethical obligation for male and female doctors not to be friends in order to be able to provide health care responsibly. If they become friends, it means denaturalizing clinical relationships. Nor should we fall into the opposite extreme of total objectification. It should attend with a compassionate and loving look, but never out of a friendly relationship.

“Physicians should not befriend patients so they can practice their healthcare responsibly,” attorney Ignacio Maglio/Archive said.
“Physicians should not befriend patients so they can practice their healthcare responsibly,” attorney Ignacio Maglio/Archive said.

For Maglio, Physicians can use and choose a digital communication channel with their patients, such as e-mail, WhatsApp, SMS, but they must make it clear that this is part of the medical care. They should specify what type of information will be shared (such as results of clinical trials). He thought that the moment we are in with new technologies is also an opportunity: “It is necessary to harmonize a Hippocratic model of medicine with a digital health system. It will result in doctor-patient relationships that are safe, of high quality and respectful of human dignity”.

However, there are healthcare professionals who already see their patients as friends on social networks. In some cases, they admit they have to review the decision. “At one point I had a private account on social networks with photos of my family, but I felt that it was inappropriate and closed it. Today I only use social networks with public accounts, where I give general guidance on diseases and treatments. If you ask me about a specific condition of a patient, I suggest you consult a medical professional. But I see that I have colleagues who prefer to disclose their private lives to their patients on social networks,” says Gabriel Lapman, cardiologist and author of the book. Reset: Lifestyle Medicine .

Meanwhile, doctor Mariana Lestelle, who is often consulted by TV show programs and is part of the medical staff of the Oncology Hospital of the city of Olavarría, in the province of Buenos Aires, said: information : “Today, everyone has social networks, from the most prestigious doctors who write for international scientific publications like Eric Topol to lesser-known professionals,” he said.

“I use social networks openly and have different followers. There are people who somehow come into contact with each other and seek guidance on diseases. Sometimes I help them solve a problem with a bureaucratic procedure, but this is a different moment from a medical consultation and it is different from a medical consultation that has to follow the directions when it happens in person”, Lestelle stated. He noted that in some cases he used WhatsApp groups to notify families while patients were being hospitalized. “I think you should set a boundary professionally. It’s the same ethics that must be followed in real life. For example, you cannot eat at the patient’s house,” he said.

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“I don’t think it’s good that some colleagues use networks to advertise themselves, to promise magical results with plastic surgeries, or to trivialize interventions,” said expert Jorge Pedro/Archive.

Former Communication Director of the Argentine Society of Plastic, Aesthetic and Reconstructive Surgery (SACPER), Dr. Jorge Pedro argued that he shares moments from his private life and professional issues on Instagram, where his patients can follow him. Instead, it distinguishes between an account and others as a professional to stay in touch with loved ones on Facebook. “I try to use social networks only to inform and guide society responsibly and ethically. I don’t think it’s good that some colleagues use networks to advertise themselves, promise magical results with plastic surgery, or downplay interventions. As plastic surgeons, we can reduce scars on the body and the passage of time, but we don’t have a magic wand or an eraser. The patient should know the limits and possible complications of treatments. Hosting television programs as a health communicator, Dr. said Pedro.

The debate over the use of social networks in the medical community is pending, as Mirtha Legrand’s doctor wrote in an editorial in the journal in 2019. Medicine Buenos Aires . Dr. Semeniuk recommends the creation of discussion forums between doctors and patients on the use of platforms such as WhatsApp, “It will certainly be different, but it will contribute to ideas that will contribute to improving health in general, trying not to lose this important aspect. Carefully selected examples, metaphors, sayings and reassuring attitudes, A dual relationship that sometimes provides just solace, but always compassion.

According to Semeniuk, dealing with these issues will avoid using “liquid medicine” in the words of the philosopher Zygmunt Bauman. “Time and artificial intelligence will tell,” he wrote. And maybe consulting a doctor who listens and even touches us by looking us in the eye, guided by an influencer, would be cool again.

Source: Info Bae

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